'Swiss Miss' de Silvestro returns to Brickyard track

Ralph N. Paulk
| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 10:42 p.m.

INDIANAPOLIS — A year ago, Simona de Silvestro wasn't sure if she could handle the unforgiving Brickyard where an errant turn or error in judgment typically dashes any hope of victory in the Indianapolis 500.

After all, de Silvestro was still mending mentally from a violent crash that knocked her out of the race in 2011.

The jagged scars on her hands are remnants of the physical damage she sustained. But her tentative approach on a racetrack that sometimes rewards even false bravado was reflective of the deeper wounds of narrowly escaping a potentially career-ending accident.

Admittedly, it's taken some time, but the 24-year-old Swiss driver seems to have gathered her nerves as she prepares for her fourth straight start at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“When you take a big hit like that, it takes a little bit of time to get the confidence back in yourself and in the equipment around you,” de Silvestro said. “Actually, last year helped me a lot on the ovals because I learned from my mistakes.”

De Silvestro, trying to bounce back from back-to-back disappointing performances here, will start on the outside of Row 8 alongside last year's pole-sitter, Ryan Briscoe. After struggling to get more out of the Dallara-Chevrolet of KV Racing Technology, she qualified 24th with a four-lap average of 225.226 mph – nearly 2 mph slower than pole winner Ed Carpenter.

De Silvestro and teammate Tony Kanaan will flip through pages of data during Carb Day on Friday to find more speed. Kanaan will start on the outside of Row 4.

“There are a lot of things in racing you can't control,” said de Silvestro, who finished 14th in the Indy 500 during her rookie season in 2010. “I'm just hoping to race the best I can, and hopefully things will come together.

“After my crash in 2011, I wasn't sure how I felt about this place. It was really the first time I had been hurt in a race car. It's something that was hard to deal with.”

Already, de Silvestro has a fourth-place finish in the season opener at St. Petersburg. In 2012, she didn't register a top-10 finish.

“Last year, she had a very tough year, which I appreciate,” Kanaan said. “I was watching from far, and the way she handled herself was remarkable. I don't think I could have done that. “

De Silvestro said being competitive isn't enough. Only results matter for a driver who won at every level before moving up to the IndyCar Series four years ago.

Invariably, de Silvestro is often compared to Danica Patrick, who now has a full-time Sprint Cup ride after establishing herself as the most dominant woman driver in IndyCar Series history. However, some are convinced de Silvestro has an even brighter future.

“Danica is a good race car driver, but Simona is the quickest female road course driver I've ever seen,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending points champion. “I think both are good for the sport. But we haven't seen the full potential of Simona, and it'll be interesting to see how it goes.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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